Hartford school reconfiguration leads to anger among teachers and parents

Batchelder Elementary School, a PreK-8 school, will close and the building will be turned into a Montessori magnet school. A Batchelder Elementary teacher who wishes to remain anonymous believes the City of Hartford is not taking students into consideration when putting a magnet school in place. (Ashok Prabhakaran/Flickr Creative Commons)

On Jan. 23, the Hartford Board of Education unanimously passed a plan that will close 12 schools in the Hartford School District over the next three years and reconfigure others. Parents and teachers have contested the plan, saying it will negatively impact students.

According to a press release from the Hartford Board of Education, the district will save approximately $15 million by closing various school buildings. The savings will be used to increase spending on community services and to build a dual language school for Spanish and English.

Batchelder Elementary School, a PreK-8 school, will close and the building will be turned into a Montessori magnet school.

A Batchelder Elementary teacher who wishes to remain anonymous believes the City of Hartford is not taking students into consideration when putting a magnet school in place.

“This school is not closing, children are being replaced. Our 400 and something children, (statistically mostly) Hispanic and African Americans, are being asked to leave and dispersed among four other schools,” the teacher said. “The building will remain open but it will open to a magnet school, (mostly populated with) suburban Caucasian and Asian children and some Hartford children.”

The 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court case Sheff vs. O’Neill established that Hartford students may choose to transfer to suburban districts, urban districts or interdistrict magnet schools to help reduce district segregation. The schools have a specific quota for students of each ethnicity to promote integration, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Montessori magnet school is one of the “open choice” schools.

The teacher said that since Batchelder Elementary has mostly Hispanic and African American students, the new school will need 25 percent Caucasian and Asian students to be considered an integrated magnet school.  

“Because you are Hispanic and African, you need to leave, because we (the town of Hartford) need to match a quota for the Sheff vs O'Neill case,” the teacher said.  

Families will have to apply for their children to attend the magnet schools. Students are chosen based on a lottery system, according to the Hartford Public Schools website. 

If a student doesn’t get in, there is little hope that their neighborhood school can provide them with the same opportunity, Tiffany Glanville, vice-chairwoman of the Hartford Board of Education who voted toward the reconfiguration, said in a Hartford Courant op-ed.

“I doubt whether a lottery system can ever serve as a complete remedy to segregation. We need to work with state policy makers, reach out to neighboring towns, embrace philanthropic partners and pursue housing and economic empowerment,” Glanville said. “All of which is necessary to deconcentrate poverty and dismantle racism and their effects on our communities and education system. I believe Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez and the school board took a courageous step forward, and now it is up to all of us to move together in the same direction.”

The teacher said Batchelder Elementary already has good resources for students. If they were a student, they would feel terrible leaving the school, the teacher added.     

“Kids will drive by and see other kids playing on their playground and going into their classrooms,” the teacher said. “The programs (available to the current students) will be changed. For example, they will lose our music program, which is great due to a grant that got guitars for every student, keyboards, drums, etc. You can’t increase or get better services.”

The teacher also said there is concern over how students will fit into new schools and confusion as to how their specific school will be chosen.

“With our PreK-8th grade, we have 430 (students) as of today. We got over 20 students from Puerto Rico after the disaster. Those numbers go up every day,” the teacher said. “There will be at least 110 kids going into other schools. If they have (that) much room, how come those schools aren’t closing? We are not under-enrolled, we do not have poor academic standards and we are not at building capacity.”

Dr. Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, wrote in a Hartford Courant op-ed that the school closings may initially be hard for parents, but they will lead to better education for all students.  

“As a product of Hartford schools, I know Hartford and its students do not deserve to be known for failure. We need bold action and the improvement that will come from implementing this plan,” Rodriguez said. “The acute pain of families and neighborhoods that will be affected by closing schools is undeniable. I support these changes because I believe it is our responsibility as a school system to take the path that will lead to better programs and higher achievement.”

Dr. Rodriguez declined to extend comment to The Daily Campus.

Luis Almenas, father of Batchelder students Anayasha and Joesen Almenas, said it would be very challenging for him to pick up his children by car with Batchelder being closed.  

“ Both would be relocated into separate schools. It would be very difficult to pick one up (at one school) and then pick the other one,” Almenas said. “Of course, I like the school (currently) how it is. My daughter has been going to that school since she was four years old. All the teachers know them by their names. I feel sad for them.”


Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu.